Human Trafficking Victims to Get Free Legal Services in Ogun State

0

Ademola Orunbon

The Ogun State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Akingbolahan Adeniran, says respite will soon come to the victims of human trafficking, as they will get free legal services through the creation of Ogun State Public Interest Law Partnership (OPILP).

Adeniran who made this revelation in Abeokuta during the fourth meeting of the State Taskforce on Human Trafficking, added that OPILP would be partnering with private legal practitioners, to render free legal services (Pro-bono) to indigents and victims of human trafficking across the State.

The Commissioner, who is also the Chairman of the Taskforce, said the services would only be rendered if the victim wanted to pursue a civil action against the traffickers, noting that it would be an advantage for victims who want to claim damages or compensation for the dehumanisation meted on them through the Pro-bono services.

He added that, the Taskforce would also enrol the victims in various empowerment training programmes, such as Anchor Borrowers and other existing programmes, either on governmental or non-governmental basis, as most of the persons affected are less privileged, which makes them more vulnerable.

“The State Taskforce will enter into Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Governmental and Non-Governmental Organisations, with the aim of training the victims for more support, as well as empowering them with basic skills, under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and other relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies for proper rehabilitation, that will make them have a source of income”, he said.

The Commissioner stated that the State Taskforce is collaborating with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Nigeria Police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp, Nigerian Immigration Service, Non-governmental Organisations, Federal Road Safety Corps, Traditional Rulers, Faith-Based Organisations, among others, to ensure proper monitoring and arrest of culprits.

Speaking on behalf of other members of the State Taskforce, Mr. Olakunle Sanni, appreciated Government for the initiative, urging it not to relent on its efforts at eradicating the menace.

CCT Chairman’s Public Meltdown, EFCC’s Powers and Ibori’s Loot

News of the physical altercation, last week, between the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr Danladi Umar, and a security officer at the ‘famous’ Banex Plaza, Abuja, has rightly elicited public indignation that a public officer of his stature can exhibit such indecorous behaviour. The subsequent public statement issued on his behalf, did not help matters – not least because it was strewn with embarrassing grammatical gaffes.

The supposed ‘rebuttal’ did not quite deny that incident actually occurred, but merely sought to portray His Honour as the ‘victim’. While the jury might still be out on that particular score, the discerning have pointed out (rightly) that, like Caesar’s wife, the CCT Chairman should be seen to be above board, as the appearance (or optics) of impropriety are more telling than its reality.

It is in this regard that, not a few commentators have wondered whether the Chairman should not review his position, that is, consider resigning, failing which he should be sanctioned by the appropriate authority – in this case by the President, acting (pursuant to Paragraph 17(3) & (4) of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers under the Constitution) on an address supported by two-thirds majority of the National Assembly. The first is unrealistic, of course, as public officers rarely resign in Nigeria.

The second might be similarly overly optimistic, given the power dynamics of Nigeria, from which the judiciary (including the CCT) is not insulated. So, the whole incident is likely to blow over – unless, of course, the supposed victim of His Honour’s alleged assault chooses to pursue it, either in a criminal court or by civil process. In the former case, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, 2015 might offer a plausible launching pad for any possible prosecution. In that event, His Honour might, presumably, seek to take advantage of the principle in NGANJIWA v FRN to argue for a suspension of such prosecution on the ground that, being a ‘judicial officer’, the NJC ought to first sanction him before such criminal proceedings can be initiated. The answer to this, of course, is that the misfeasance in this particular case – unlike that of Hon. Justice Nganjiwa – did not occur in the course of performing the Chairman’s official duties. In other words, it wasn’t ‘judicial misconduct’.

Is the EFCC Too Powerful?

This question is prompted by the controversy over the ultimatum reportedly issued by the Commission’s new helmsman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, to Bankers to declare their assets by the 1st of June, 2021, or face the consequences under the Bank Employees Declaration of Assets Act (formerly Decree) 1986. Public reaction to the directive has, not surprisingly, been mostly positive. More on this later. Suffice it to say for now that such a blanket endorsement misses the fundamental question of the limits of the law-making powers of the legislature in a Federation such as Nigeria.

In relation to the EFCC, its enabling statute is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment, etc.) Act No. 1 of 2004. This law repealed the earlier, original, Act of 2002; for our purposes however, both enactments are virtually the same. They were made by the National Assembly, whose law-making powers are donated and circumscribed by the provisions of Section 4(2), (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution, by virtue of which:-

i. The Assembly is empowered to make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List contained in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution (68 in all);

ii. The Assembly also has power to make laws in respect of Items 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25, 27 and 28 of the Concurrent Legislative List contained in Part II of the Second Schedule to the Constitution;

iii. The Assembly may also legislate in respect of any other matter which the Constitution empowers it to do.

The Commission’s Remit

The functions of the EFCC are contained in Section 6 of its said enabling Act. Their main provisions are as follows:

i. “The investigation of all financial crimes, including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit card fraud, contract scam, etc.”,

ii. “The examination and investigation of all reported cases of economic and financial crimes with a view to identifying individuals, corporate bodies or groups involved”;

iii. “Taking charge of supervising, controlling, co-ordinating all the responsibilities, functions and activities relating to the investigation and prosecution of all offences connected with or relating to economic and financial crimes”;

Additionally, Section 7 (1) of the Act empowers the Commission to:-

i. “Cause investigations to be conducted as to whether any person, corporate body or organisation has committed an offence under (the) Act or any other law relating to economic and financial crimes”;

ii. “Cause investigations to be conducted into the properties of any person it if appears to the Commission that the person’s lifestyle and extent of the properties are not justified by his source of income”

Finally, Section 7 (2) of the Act provides that the Commission shall be the co-ordinating agency for the enforcement of the provisions of:-

i. “The Money Laundering Act;

ii. The Advancement Fee Fraud Act;

iii. The Failed Banks (Recovery of Debt and Financial Malpractices in Banks) Act;

iv. The Banks and other Financial Institutions Act;

v. The Miscellaneous Offences Act;

vi. Any other law or regulation relating to economic and financial crimes, including the Criminal Code and the Penal Code”.

It is a trite constitutional aphorism, that a Federal Parliament can only legislate over matters in respect of which it is specifically empowered under the Constitution. See DOHERTY v BALEWA (1961) All NLR 605 and ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF ONDO STATE v ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION & 35 OTHERS, SC. 200/2001. In the latter, the Supreme Court construed Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution – which obliges the State to “abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power” – and held that it validated the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act enacted by the National Assembly. In the case of the EFCC Act, however, I believe that, with the exception of Sections 6(b),(m) and 7(2),(c)&(d) thereof (which empower the Commission to investigate and prosecute, inter alia, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit card fraud), the National Assembly is incompetent to apply the rest of its provisions across the country.

In other words, I believe that, apart from Abuja, the FCT, (which the National Assembly legislates for by virtue of Section 299(a) of the Constitution) the Assembly is incompetent to enact those provisions of the EFCC Act which purport to apply across the 36 States of the Federation. Accordingly, in my view in those States, those provisions are ultra vires the National Assembly: only State Houses of Assembly possess the power – as part of their Residual Powers under the Constitution – to enact them.

As for the Bankers’ Declaration of Assets Law . . .

I believe that, to the extent that it’s subject-matter is banking (precisely, bank employees), Items 6 and 68 of the Exclusive Legislative List, in Part 1 and Paragraph 2 (a) of Part III – both of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution – confer it with the requisite constitutional validity as an existing law under Section 315(1)(a) thereof. In other words, the EFCC is competent to enforce it, as it reportedly purports to do. This is virtue of Section 7(1)(b) & (2)(f) of the EFCC Act referred to above.

Ibori’s Loot

The return to Nigeria, by the British Government, a couple of weeks ago, of the sum of £4.2million purportedly recovered from former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, has provoked the usual media frenzy – and, even, reportedly, a suit or two. While the latter development put something of a dampener on things in terms of public commentary on the issue, one can, however observe – albeit in passing – that most of the informed commentary has focused on the incongruity (or otherwise) of the claim on the fund by the Delta State Government, given her previous position – in court – that she lost no money to Ibori’s malfeasance.

However, equally relevant (indeed, even more so, in my view) are the provisions of Section 80 of the 1999 Constitution which obliges the payment of all monies “received by the Federation” into a Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, which can only be accessed (or disbursed/withdrawn) in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly in an Appropriation Act – popularly called ‘the Budget’. Was Ibori’s ‘Loot’ received by the Federation? If so, the answer to the poser about its disbursement is obvious.

In that case, the concerns about the strings allegedly attached to its return – deployment towards visible infrastructural projects (the Kano-Abuja Expressway, the 2nd Niger Bridge and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway) – become irrelevant, as these can easily be captured in next year’s Budget or in a Supplementary Appropriation Act to be passed by the National Assembly. Talk about a storm in a tea cup.